As the Thanksgiving travel period kicks off this weekend and continues through the following weekend, at least three storms of note have the potential to cause trouble on the roads and at the airports across the United States.
More than 55 million travelers have plans to venture at least 50 miles away from home from the Friday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). The holiday travel volume is expected to be second highest behind 2005 since tracking began in 2000, AAA said.
An active storm track is forecast to bring a wintry mix this weekend to the Midwest and Northeast, prior to a more significant and potentially very disruptive storm for the central U.S. during the peak of the Thanksgiving travel time.
The same storm forecast to bring much-needed rainfall to part of California and the Southwest states at midweek and soaking rain to the South Central states late this week is expected to turn toward the Midwest and East this weekend.
Rain and a couple of thunderstorms are likely to extend from the lower Mississippi Valley to the Ohio Valley from Friday to Saturday then from the southern Atlantic coast to the mid-Atlantic and southern New England from Saturday to Sunday.
While the rain can make for slick travel on the roads, poor visibility due to patchy fog and a low cloud ceiling can lead to airline delays at some of the major hubs from Atlanta to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and eventually New York City and Boston.
On the storm's colder northwest flank, a wintry mix and some snow could extend from parts of the central Plains Friday night to the middle Mississippi Valley Saturday and Great Lakes region by Saturday night.
The major hubs of St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit may be affected by some wintry precipitation for a time this weekend.
The next cross-country storm, which will originate over the Gulf of Alaska this weekend, is forecast to dip over the Northwest and northern Rockies early next week.
While this new storm will bring rain showers to the Seattle and Portland, Oregon, snow will spread over the northern Rockies, the mountains of the interior Northwest and the northern Plains from late Sunday to Monday.
Snow levels are likely to dip to pass levels with this storm, so motorists should anticipate delays as the storm moves in.
In terms of Thanksgiving travel, in lieu of any bad weather, there's nothing worse than Wednesday, the AAA statement said.
Trips during the Wednesday before Thanksgiving can be four times longer as commuters mix with holiday travelers, according to AAA.
Bad weather can greatly magnify the travel delays.
That same Northwest storm is likely to regroup over the central and southern Rockies from Tuesday to Wednesday.
There is the potential for heavy snow and winterlike travel conditions with substantial delays to spread from eastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico to parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan as Thanksgiving travel surges.
The same storm is likely to produce locally heavy rain and thunderstorms on its warm side over the southern Plains and the lower Mississippi and Ohio valleys by the middle of next week.
So not only may there be normal heavy holiday traffic on the roads and at the airports, a storm may really throw a wrench into plans during the Wednesday before Thanksgiving over the Central states.
Should the major storm next week be faster, heavy rain, gusty winds and poor visibility could hit travel hard in the Southeast and the Northeast during the day and night before Thanksgiving.
Another storm is likely to move in from the Pacific Ocean and could have negative impact on travel with low-elevation coastal rain and mountain and inland snow in the Northwest from Wednesday to Thanksgiving Day.
This far out, the track, strength and timing of each storm can change.
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